Indonesia not quitting coal, but eyes more renewable energy

Adisti Sukma Sawitri The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 16;

For a low-powered country like Indonesia where electricity is still a luxury, the coal way is often the only way.

It is the cheapest source of energy as the country’s mines produce the fourth largest stocks of coal
worldwide.

But even that is not enough. The government’s target to generate 35,000 megawatts (MW) of power will only bring energy consumption per capita to 1,200 kilowatts per hour (kWh), much lower than the 1,600 kWh achieved by Vietnam today.

Today Indonesia still consumes 900 kWh, more than half of which comes from coal and with very little support from renewable energy.

This has brought skepticism of the government’s targets to reduce coal contribution to 30 percent and reach 23 percent in the use of renewables by 2030 as proposed to the UN climate change forum in Marrakesh this year.

National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said the goal to reach a smaller share of coal in the energy mix was not about quitting coal, but about increasing efforts to establish renewables.

“There are plans to further use coal-fired power plants, but such contributions may get smaller if we succeed in developing other sources of energy like gas and renewables,” he told The Jakarta Post during the sidelines of the climate forum.

As a signatory of the Paris Agreement, a global pact that binds countries to commit to the reduction of emissions, Indonesia has pledged to cut emissions by 29 percent by 2030 or 41 percent with international support. The agreement has been ratified into law, making the targets obligatory.

Reducing coal and embracing the renewables were among the strategies to reach the agreement’s goals, along with efforts to stop forest fires.

Bambang said after looking at all options of renewables, including wind and solar energy, the most feasible path to reach the goal by 2030 involved hydropower and energy generated from domestic and industrial waste, with plantation waste from bamboo and oil palm plantations being highly sought after.

The government was also looking to reach remote areas and small islands with the renewables.

“The cost to install renewables in the regions makes sense, as long as we don’t offer it in places that are close to coal-fired plants. It won’t be able to compete,” he said.

Faby Tumiwa, an electricity expert from the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), said it was better for the government to look for other options such as wind power and solar power as the power capacity generated from waste was relatively lower.

While a solar plant and wind plant could generate 900 GW and 100 GW respectively, a biomass plant only generates 3 to 6 MW.

“There has been a significant drop in prices of solar technology worldwide. At the same costs or lower than biomass, we can get bigger power capacity from solar [energy],” said Faby.

He said the cost to install a solar panel now ranges from US$4 to 16 cents per kWh while it costs $12 to 17 cents per kWh for biomass.

However, the options still often result in more expensive electricity compared to coal, making state operator PLN reluctant to look beyond coal.

Bambang said the government was still trying to provide more incentives for PLN and investors to embrace the renewables.

The government will push forward to propose a Rp 1.5 trillion ($112.5 million) subsidy to subsidize electricity produced from the renewable sources.

“We will propose again the subsidy in the [2017] budget revision. This is not about subsidizing businesspeople, but about developing the renewables,” said Bambang.

The Marrakech climate talks ended Friday in more subdued tones than its Paris edition last year. As delegates questioned the United States’ commitment under the incoming administration led by Donald Trump, donor and recipient countries had yet to agree on the guidelines in which international climate funding will be channeled.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said she will focus on bilateral talks to get support for the country.

“Delegates from donor countries were excited about Indonesia and expressed the intention to cooperate. This is something that we can achieve while waiting for results from the climate forum,” she said.

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